Feist ruling - USA

In the USA databases can only be protected by copyright as a compilation. 17 US Code 101 defines a compilation as “a collection and assembling of pre-existing materials or of data that are selected in such a way that the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship”.

In the case Feist Publication Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Company Inc. the US Supreme Court ruled that a compilation work, such as a database, must contain a minimum level of creativity in order to be protected under the Copyright Act.

The Rural Telephone Service company was a local telephone company based in Kansas that published telephone directories compiled thanks to data it obtained from its subscribers. Feist, on the other hand, was a publisher of area-wide telephone directories covering a larger range than Rural’s directories. Feist needed to use information contained in Rural’s directories in order to publish its White Pages.

After a failed attempt to obtain the information from Rural itself, Feist extracted the listings it needed from Rural’s directory without its consent. Rural sued Feist for copyright infringement. After two lower courts ruled in Rural’s favour the case was brought before the Supreme Court. This overruled both decisions since they did not meet the statutory requirement for originality under 17.US Code 102(a). The Supreme Court found that a compilation is not copyrightable per se, but only if its facts have been “selected, coordinated or arranged in such a way that the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship”.

This means that databases that do not answer the originality requirement can no longer benefit from IP protection in the US.

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